Alyssa started Sensory Sharks and Mermaids through a child advocacy class she took before discovering ASU Online, and its immediate success inspired her to look for ways to further her education in the field. Through her research, she discovered ASU Online’s Community Advocacy and Social Policy degree- and dove right in.
“It’s the perfect program, and as a veteran, the support I receive from the university also played a big factor in my decision to enroll,” Alyssa says. “It’s important for me to finish school and utilize my GI Bill benefits.”
Thus far, she’s been able to apply a lot of her personal passions directly in the classroom.
“I love that I’m able to use the Sensory Sharks and Mermaids platform in the classes I’m taking,” she explains. “For example, I wrote a letter to my city as one of my assignments. I had a social policy government class where I learned how Senate bills work and how to write letters to people in power. I’ve also learned answers to questions such as if I want this to go through, who do I talk to and how do I approach them in a professional way?”
The driving force behind Alyssa’s motivation is her son, who is on the autism spectrum and had a near-drowning incident in their backyard pool when he was 2 years old.
“I started doing research and found that drowning is among the leading causes of death for individuals with autism,” she says. “Education about water safety is important, and yet lessons are expensive, and there were none specifically aimed toward kids on the spectrum.”
After voicing her concerns to the city, officials agreed to offer a free pilot program, which was so successful that the city brought it back again this summer. The only problem was that the department now wanted to charge $125 per child to cover costs.
“Some families with multiple kids could be spending upwards of $250, and their finances are already limited in dealing with kids who have special needs,” Alyssa says.
So she knocked on the doors of numerous local businesses, asking them to become sponsors or donate items to a raffle. Through her efforts, Alyssa was able to raise $4,600, which covered the cost for all 35 kids who participated in the swim lessons. Despite having such a busy schedule, Alyssa credits ASU Online with enabling her to still be successful as a student juggling many responsibilities.
Before I became an online student, it was a struggle for me to get good grades because I couldn’t always show up for class. It’s hard to do when your son is having a meltdown or you don’t have a babysitter. Now, I can build my life as a student around what I need to do as a mom. People told me it would be hard to manage my time, but I haven’t had those issues. I just get it done and have built up the learning habits needed to succeed.
Applying her degree to personal passions
She uses a big desk calendar to organize her assignments, as well as everything that goes on for her on a given day.
“I even write down what I did that day, who I talked to … anything I did so that I have a visual of what goes on each month and what I plan on doing,” she says. “I also schedule days off where I don’t do any homework. I highly recommend taking the online stress management course in your first semester. It was really eye-opening, especially as a special needs parent, and helped me realize I can’t be successful unless I take care of myself, too.”
Currently, Alyssa works for the school district, a position she loves and is grateful for after it helped her get back on her feet and support her family. Once she graduates, Alyssa hopes to continue her advocacy work in the world of water safety.
“I would like to do not only special needs, but also affordable swim instruction for all kids, especially in places like California where everyone has a pool,” she says. “At some point you’ll be around a body of water, and every kid has the right to learn those skills. It shouldn’t cost a lot of money to learn how to float. If I could actually make my swimming advocacy work into a career, that would be really cool. But no matter what, I know having this degree will provide me with a lot of opportunities to gauge where I want to be within social work.”
Learn more about the ASU Online bachelor degree in Community Advocacy and Social Policy.